Their Eyes Were Watching God By Zora Neale Hurston: The Voice Of Power And Silence Of Freedom
Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God displays the power struggle women and men held during this time. As many women were passive and accepted this lack of authority, main character Janie moves against the tide. Through her search for fulfillment in a loving and fair relationship, she gains knowledge for herself on what it means to be a woman in society run by dominant men.
In this novel, voice is both a device used to control and channel for liberation. Hurston selectively uses language to portray this throughout Janie’s journey to empowerment. In Janie’s first marriage, she complies with Nanny’s wishes to marry a man to ensure security rather than for love and respect. Her relationship with Logan allows her to discover exactly what she doesn’t want for her future, she proves her muscle through her voice as she argues with him claiming he, “ain’t done [her] no favor by marryin’ [her],” (Hurtson 31) and leads her into leaving Logan for Jody. This is the beginning of the decline of Janie’s confidence in her speech, as her new husband gets his first inkling of power, gaining a say amongst the community it becomes clear the place Jody intends for her to stay. As Jody is elected mayor of Eatonville and the townspeople call for words from Janie, the now new mayor’s wife, she is cut off by him saying, “mah wife don’t know nothin’ ’bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lakdat,” (Hurston 43) taking away her voice and power opportunity by opportunity.
This does not discourage her spirit but give her the realization of her situation and allows her to gain interest in finding a voice for her own. Though during this time Janie continues to long to join the conversation but, “no matter what Jody did, Janie said nothing,” (Hurston 76) as she continues to submit and silence herself to Jody’s forceful demeanor and physical abuse. When Janie first speaks out after he publicly hits her yelling that he, “look lak de change uh life,” (Hurston 79) she not only embarrasses her husband, but finally starts her acquisition for power. She truly finds her voice again when Jody dies, instead of mourning like the community expects her to she states, “mourning oughtn’t tuh last no linger n’grief,” (Hurston 93) and releases the hair Jody forced her to hide. She is now given the freedom to live her life the way she wants. At this point what she wants is happiness and her dream of a loving marriage. Her love of Tea Cake grows as he, unlike Jody and Logan, gives her the liberty to speak and asks for nothing in return early on. Her final struggle for voice occurs as she shoots Tea Cake, while seeing, “the gun in his hand that was hanging to his side,” (Hurston 183) she decides the fate of her third husband. This symbolizes Janie prioritizing and choosing her own life.
Hurston switches the definition of voice, she emphasizes the control of language to be a source of identity and empowerment. In the trial following this act Janie discovers her ability to define herself by her speech interactions with others and learns that silence too can be a source of empowerment; now having found her voice, she learns to control it. Hurston writes, “She talked. . . . She just sat there and told and when she was through she hushed,” representing her satisfaction in not needing to prove her power anymore. Janie’s progression throughout this novel in finding her voice questions of the status of women in her era, but it does not question whether or not Janie found her voice in particular. Hurston proves this as Janie relays her story of strength and discovery to other women, giving hope that her suffering goes beyond herself.
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